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These 3D Holograms Pop, No Dorky Glasses Necessary

Until recently, the public had only seen holograms at cringe-worthy concerts or events featuring absent or deceased stars. A company called Leia wants to bring holograms to your mobile devices, and its newest prototype display that shows 3D holographic images brings us one step closer to that reality.

The technology starts with regular LCD screens, from which Leia removes the backlight and replaces it with a special panel that has better light control. The panel carefully releases light in specific directions, streaming different light into both the left and right eyes. Your eyes process the light at the same time, and it creates the 3D effect in front of you without the need for special glasses.

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When I saw the first 3D holographic images at Mobile World Congress, I was surprised at how well they rendered. The moving letters and shapes on the tiny screen had depth and definition. Depending on my viewpoint, I could see different sides of the objects and how they appeared from different angles.

The most intriguing part is what happens when Leia hooks up its 3D imagery to other technology. During my demo, the company had a Leap Motion controller plugged into the 3D display, and this allowed me to wave my hand above the Leap Motion and manipulate a skeletal image on the screen. For first-generation technology, Leia's imagery responded quickly to my hand gestures and moved fluidly.

Leia also demoed touch interactions with the 3D images. I simply raised my finger close to the screen, and I could stop and drag objects floating above it.

Leia wants to open up its technology to developers before releasing a consumer product. The company's software is all based on webGL and JavaScript, so most developers won't have to learn another coding language to create programs and apps.

As with any new technology, there are limitations to Leia's 3D holographic images. You won't see televisions with this tech anytime soon; Leia said it's easier to produce these images on smaller screens, and the company is looking into products like smartphones, smartwatches and even devices as large as tablets.

Not surprisingly, Leia is also looking into integrating its imaging technology into games, which could make for some surreal and awesome boss battles. While there's no official timeline, Leia plans to have a developer kit ready by the end of this year.

Valentina Palladino is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Follow her at @valentinalucia. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.